The Gore Oxygen Jacket is a classic rain cape: waterproof as a sippy cup, tail longer than a cat’s, less insulated than the feelings of a poet and only slightly more breathable than Tupperware. You expect those things in a rain cape the way you expect any car you drive to go fast enough to achieve freeway speeds. Without that, what’s the point? And I’ll say that while I have claimed not to wear windbreakers, I will wear a rain cape, but only when the conditions would be described as duress.
What I didn’t expect was that the $249.99 Oxygen jacket would fit better than my Assos ClimaJet rain cape. Virtually nothing ever fits better than anything I have from Assos. The best fitting bibs, jersey and gloves I’ve ever worn were all conceived and manufactured in Switzerland. Same for my favorite long-sleeve jersey.
But the Oxygen rain cape? The difference in fit between this and the ClimaJet is a matter of just slightly more deliberate and careful cut in a few key dimensions. Remarkably, fit of the sleeves and torso is a touch snugger on the Oxygen. The sleeves are also longer on the Oxygen and cover a portion of my hand, instead of just ending at my wrist. Plus, there are zippers at the wrist so that you can pull the jacket on and then add your long-finger gloves afterward. By zipping the jacket down over the end of the glove, your hands are likely to stay a bit drier, at least as dry as the glove will permit. What you won’t have to suffer is rain running down the sleeve and then into the glove thanks to the gap between the cuff of the sleeve and the beginning of the glove.
The tail of the jacket is both wider and longer. It actually envelopes my rather substantial trunk. Keeping the tail in place is gripper elastic, something lacking on the ClimaJet. This is significant because while no one without fenders will finish a ride with a dry butt, the difference between a good tail on a jacket and a bad one is whether your chamois is damp or a dripping sponge. Dripping sponge is bueno-free.
I need to acknowledge that in comparing the Oxygen to the ClimaJet, I’m almost playing a bit of dirty pool. Assos has replaced the ClimaJet with the ClimaSchutz, so I’m comparing a current jacket to a not current jacket. However, I’m doing this for two good reasons. First, I haven’t tried the ClimaSchutz, so there’s that. Second, the ClimaJet was absolutely the best rain cape I’d ever used until the Oxygen came down the pike.
On a rainy day that also happened to be cold, the ClimaJet would be better because it would allow me to layer more beneath it. Despite the lack of mesh panels for ventilation (like the ClimaJet), the Oxygen was every bit as breathable, presumably because of the Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric it is cut from. Gore claims it feels great against your skin, but I’d still prefer at least a light layer of wool or poly between me and this thing; certainly, that’s how I rode it. However, unlike other lightweight, stuff-in-your-pocket rain capes, this unit is a bit bulky for pocket duty. This is the sort of piece that you’re going to leave home wearing, with the likely expectation that you’ll have it on for the whole of the ride. It’s not impossible, mind you, but if you’re looking for something that wads up like a banned plastic grocery bag, this ain’t it. Ooh, I should also mention that the zipper is more watertight than some wine corks.
My only beef with this thing is that while it comes in eight colors (yay!), I was given the all-black version. What the hell? Going ninja couture on a rainy day makes as much sense as chumming for sharks from a canoe. Any of the other color ways seems a much better idea, even the white, which will probably be tan/gray permanently by the end of the first ride. It comes in five sizes: S, M, L, XL and XXL; I wear the medium.
It’s pieces like this that make me wonder why the hell Gore’s reputation for cycling apparel isn’t better. They’ve done the work. Now they deserve some credit.
I don’t wear windbreakers. That ought to be a problem considering that this is meant to be a review of a … windbreaker. Call it what you want; in my book, all lightweight jackets that aren’t insulated or waterproof are windbreakers. And I don’t wear them.
You may wonder why. It’s simple. Simple in that the-gas-tank-is-empty-so-I-need-gas way. As a category, they are cut so generously, they flap like a flag in the wind. At 25 mph, the sound is as annoying as a helicopter and nearly as loud. So I don’t wear them for my own sanity, not to mention my regard for anyone I’m riding with. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the roomier the windbreaker, the more like a hothouse it becomes. The sweat captured in the sleeves is a feeling as uncomfortable as wet socks.
For those reasons, I’ve been a vest and arm warmer man for … well, it was far enough back that most of us were still on steel bikes. My exceptions to this have been full-on insulated winter jackets and rain capes.
The folks at Gore wanted me to try two of their jackets (I’ll get to the other one soon). That frightened me. Gore makes so many products I like that I didn’t want to be faced with either dodging the review or publishing a review that trashed their work.
But then I realized I needed a jacket for a mountain bike ride I was going to do. I needed something that could fend off fog to the point of mist and a deep enough chill to serve a white wine. And because I was wearing a Camelbak, I wanted something that would be quick to don or remove and didn’t have to worry about stuffing it in a pocket; I could just jam it in the pack.
That I’ve only ever worn the Xenon 2.0 jacket while mountain biking does affect this review in one notable way. I didn’t realize there was a pocket in the back for probably the first dozen rides. But there is one; it’s small and zippered and not something you’ll be able to access while moving, at least, not unless you’re part of a Russian acrobatic troupe. But it’s there.
It’s a feature, that pocket, but I don’t see it as a selling point. But this is: I can do 25 mph on a fire road descent in this jacket and not go deaf. Both the sleeves and the torso of the jacket are cut on tapers to keep them surprisingly form fitting. The particular genius behind the sleeves is that they are articulated at the elbows so that they have a natural bend to follow an arm’s reach to the bar. When you get sleeves cut straight they pull at the outside of the wrist when you place your hands on the handlebar. On the rare occasion that the sleeves are cut slim enough, what usually happens is that they get tight at your triceps. It’s not terrible, but it does restrict movement just a bit.
If this jacket has a liability, it’s that anyone who isn’t in fair form is going to find fitting into this thing a challenge. You can’t be 5’8″ and 175 lbs. and find this a good fit. It just doesn’t feature enough stretch. But that’s not to say it doesn’t stretch at all. It does stretch just enough to allow you freedom of movement even though it features a fit more snug than my most accidentally tight T-shirt. To their credit, Gore tags this as a slim fit.
While the outside of the jacket feels linen light, it’s the inside that’s a surprise. It’s silky enough in feel to be comfortable against bare skin. That, sports fans, turns up as often as a passing comet. Cut from Gore’s Windstopper material, the Xenon is both effective at stopping the wind to keep you warm enough in walk-in refrigerator and compact enough to fit in a jersey pocket. Gore uses a bit of mesh in the side panels as a liner to aid in wicking for high-perspiration areas; it kept the jacket from going clammy and clingy during a sustained climb.
One of the most surprising features of the Xenon is the thin neoprene used in the cuffs on the sleeves. It gives them just enough stretch so that they can be timepiece snug without be restrictive when you want to pull the jacket off. Everyone knows the struggle of pulling off arm warmers when you have gloves on, and this touch is astrophysicist-smart. Best of all, the cuffs prevent the jacket sleeves from inflating in the wind like a blown-up paper bag.
The Xenon 2.0 goes for $199.99 and comes in four colors; in addition to the white and black edition you see above, there’s also red/black, blue/black and, of course, all black. Why companies make all black top is beyond me; it decreases the visibility of someone who really can’t possibly be too visible. It comes in five sizes: S, M, L, XL and XXL; I’m wearing the M.
I’m not exaggerating even a little bit when I say this is the best fitting and most comfortable wind breaker I’ve ever worn, that it has taken from me one of those lines in the sand on which I derived a certain snobbish pride. I can’t say I don’t wear windbreakers anymore. I almost miss that status.